02518: The Effects of Early Life Experience on Working Dog Temperament and Cognition

Grant Status: Closed

Grant Amount: $105,949
Emily E. Bray, PhD; University of Arizona
May 1, 2018 - October 31, 2021

Sponsor(s): American Boxer Charitable Foundation, Bichon Frise Club of America, Inc., Gordon Setter Club of America, Inc., Great Pyrenees Club of America, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., Vizsla Club of America Welfare Foundation

Breed(s): -All Dogs
Research Program Area: Behavior
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Working dogs provide irreplaceable services and support to their handlers and communities. However, only around 35% of dogs bred for this purpose are ultimately  successful. Therefore, improvements to methods for working dog breeding, rearing, training and selection could lead to major advances including increases in the supply of trained dogs and reductions in the expense required to train them. Some of the earliest, yet most formative, interactions that occur in a mammal's life are those involving its mother, and yet, best canine mothering practices are not well-established or studied. In collaboration with Canine Companions for Independence, the investigators will quantitatively assess levels of maternal behavior in order to: 1) examine associations between maternal behavior and offspring temperament, cognition and neuroendocrine profiles at eight weeks of age; 2) compare maternal style and puppy behavioral, cognitive, and neuroendocrine profiles between different types of early rearing environments (private home versus professional center); and 3) identify temperament and neuroendocrine predictors of individual differences in maternal style. These components will reveal how differences in the early environment affect working dog development, and the extent to which individual differences in maternal style can be predicted from temperamental and neuroendocrine characteristics of the dam. This research will provide foundational data regarding how early-life experiences influence puppy development, and how these processes can be optimized to promote the healthy development of dogs well-suited to the demands of diverse working roles.


Bray, E. E., Gnanadesikan, G. E., Horschler, D. J., Levy, K. M., Kennedy, B. S., Famula, T. R., & MacLean, E. L. (2021). Early-emerging and highly heritable sensitivity to human communication in dogs. Current Biology, 31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.04.055

Bray, E. E., Gruen, M. E., Gnanadesikan, G. E., Horschler, D. J., Levy, K. M., Kennedy, B. S., Hare, B. A., & MacLean, E. L. (2020). Dog cognitive development: A longitudinal study across the first 2 years of life. Animal Cognition. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01443-7

Bray, E. E., Gruen, M. E., Gnanadesikan, G. E., Horschler, D. J., Levy, K. M., Kennedy, B. S., Hare, B. A., & MacLean, E. L. (2020). Cognitive characteristics of 8- to 10-week-old assistance dog puppies. Animal Behaviour, 166, 193–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2020.05.019

Bray, E. E., Levy, K. M., Kennedy, B. S., Duffy, D. L., Serpell, J. A., & MacLean, E. L. (2019). Predictive Models of Assistance Dog Training Outcomes Using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire and a Standardized Temperament Evaluation. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 6 (49). https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00049

“Do Dogs Display Behavioral Traits Central to Williams-Beuren Syndrome? Transposons, Behavior & Training Success in Assistance Dogs,” June 30, 2023. https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-2902414/v1.

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